Those who hold public office should rightfully be held to a higher standard.
All of us are human, and thus flawed. But those who ask for the faith of their fellow citizens, who seek to represent them in the halls of power, are tasked with pursuing and preserving the public interest, with maintaining the dignity of our system and setting a positive example for future generations.
In Rhode Island, since 2009, members of the General Assembly have gone without an important check on their conduct. On Nov. 8, we have a chance to restore that lost oversight – and we urge voters across the state to take it.
Question 2 on the statewide ballot would again give the Rhode Island Ethics Commission the authority to hear complaints with regard to conflicts of interest involving state senators and representatives. This power has been lacking since a 2009 Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling in which it was found the state Constitution’s “speech in debate” clause provided lawmakers with immunity in matters involving “core legislative functions.”
We support open, robust debate. We in no way want to see free speech suppressed or the sharing of ideas hindered.
Neither did the founders, nor the vast majority of Americans through our history. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides ample evidence of that, and should quite effectively ensure lawmakers may state their mind without fear of some formal reprisal.
We do, however, firmly believe Rhode Islanders deserve to know some check is in place to investigate and effectively address violations of the public trust.
As many candidates have likely found out over the summer, using a few key words out on the campaign trail – such as 38 Studios, Gordon Fox, Ray Gallison, John Carnevale – will likely lead to a quick, plain lesson in the way many citizens presently feel about their state government.
The negative perception is very palpable and deeply problematic. It leads to apathy and anger, disillusionment and disconnection. It hinders our ability to bring our communities together and make progress on a host of vital issues. And despite the protestations of some lawmakers, it is a perception rooted in reality.
Restoring Ethics Commission oversight for members of the General Assembly will not solve existing problems or reverse public opinion overnight. But it represents an essential starting point. We urged all Rhode Islanders to vote yes on Question 2.